Unions build case for district to mandate apprentice use

POULSBO — Two labor unions are hoping that when the planned high school in Kingston is ready for construction, not just one foundation will be laid when the project gets under way next year.

The other base they hope to see created — besides the actual building infrastructure — would be the relationship built through use of worker apprenticeships by the head contractor.

Apprentices, who both work and train with experienced contractors on projects, are needed to replenish an aging construction force, Field Representative for the Laborers Local 252 Union Troy Andrews told the North Kitsap School District Board June 10.

“The workforce is going away and we are not training our replacements,” he said. “And you’re about to build a $30 million high school.”

Andrews encouraged the school board to create an apprentice requirement for whomever the district hires as the primary construction company on the job.

But a budget wary district administration and board of directors voiced concerns that adding mandated apprenticeships to the contract would drive up costs, as contractors might seek higher fees for apprentice training.

NKSD Capital Programs Director Robin Shoemaker mentioned at meeting that placing an apprentice mandate on projects “often results in added costs.”

“We’d love to see more contractors do this but at the same time to make this a requirement ... would add costs,” she said.

Andrews disagreed, noting he believes apprentice’s wages on projects can be lower due to the education they are also receiving on the job, which could save contractors money.

The district has several options as to how to handle the issue. Aside from making an apprentice requirement an actual mandate in the KHS contract, the district could make it a bid alternate for a contractor to decide how much they’d be willing to pay to furnish apprentices on the project.

Capital Facilities Advisory Committee representative Nick Jewett said he preferred adding the use of apprentices as an alternate.

“The Draconian way to do this is to create a mandate,” Jewett said. “The progressive way to do it is to create incentive (for apprentice projects).”

Jewett added that it was not necessarily the district’s issue to take on, explaining that if apprenticeships become a higher priority, it will be the state that will take action.

“If the analysis is that the work force is getting old then the state will create a mandate (for apprentices),” Jewett said.

Shoemaker also recommended “encouraging” KHS contract bidders to use apprentices on projects but stopping short of making it a requirement.

The Northwest Region Representative of the Laborers’ International Union of North America John Tippie first approached the school board Feb. 26 to support the use of construction apprentices.

His son Michael, a participant in the apprentice program in Tacoma, has completed about one-fourth of the hours required in the program. But he dropped out of the apprenticeship because he said the commute from North Kitsap was simply too far.

“And there wasn’t any work in the area for me to do,” Michael Tippie told the board.

Board member Ed Strickland said that while he liked the apprenticeship program, he was torn between the options if more cost was involved since that expense was being paid by the taxpayers.

“It’s a really tough one,” he said. “I’ve got to be the caretaker of the public’s money. At the same time, I’m a union guy.”

Ultimately, board president Catherine Ahl asked why it was the district’s responsibility to create a mandate and possibly cover the costs. She added that if contractors were the beneficiaries of the program, then they should be willing to cover any added expenses.

“If (the apprenticeship program) is such a wonderful deal then why aren’t more contractors using it?” Ahl asked.

A decision on the issue isn’t required until the primary contract for the Kingston High School Project is solidified in early 2005.

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